The Thankful Adoptee

There’s a clash of opinions among the adoption constellation, specifically the ADOPTEE community. Should we be thankful, and if so, to whom/ what entity should we direct our thank-yous?

In my research and interaction with fellow adopted adults in recent years, I find the topic of thankfulness, (AKA gratefulness) to be a highly charged topic, and it makes me think about HOW to feel…how I SHOULD feel, and how I ACTUALLY feel. Note that ‘how’, ‘should’ and ‘actually’ might not be the same thing.

Growing up I was taught, like many kids, adopted or not, to give thanks for my home, family, food, health and school.  OK, fine.  No arguments there.  I am deeply grateful for all those things. I could thank G-d plus any physical human beings who made these things possible. I am thankful all the time, not just on one Thursday in November, and I try to make a note of it. I’m not “churchy” in a traditional sense, but I do thank “Spirit” every day.

As an adopted person, I’ve often received the comment from well-meaning strangers upon learning this factoid about me, “Oh how special! You must be so thankful!” No one else but fellow adoptees understands that a remark like this makes adopted adults feel a little awkward and not “special”. It’s condescending and instead makes us feel like perpetual children.

Adoptees need more open-ended reactions and less of telling us how we must be feeling.  It doesn’t make us less grateful for our lives or what have you, but such comments can make many adopted people feel pushed down and as though a door has been shut in our face.

A more appropriate response might be, “Wow! That’s so interesting. Tell me about it.”

Keep that communication door open, and we might be the most thankful people you’ll ever meet!

Am I thankful for being adopted?  Some days, yes I am. I had a great house, a fine education, (Go ‘Noles!), loving relatives and even dogs! Other days I remember the flip-side. In order for me to have ended up where I did and with whom, my birth parents had to endure a traumatizing loss. My birth mother, specifically, had to sign her rights away regarding one of her children. It meant my birth siblings and I lost many years’ worth of time not knowing one another. It meant that many people had to live with the notion of “what if…”  and had to harbor locked-away secrets of shame and fear because a couple of people’s timing and luck was really lousy.

Why do so many instances of “Let’s give thanks” have to come at a price?

So am I a Thankful Adoptee? Only to a point. I’m thankful for the blessings I have had; some which are unique to only me and some which my birth siblings and cousins have also had because we all grew up in the same town during the same decades, so we have some things in common. I am thankful that I know all of my birth family now. I am thankful that many of us have been able to celebrate holidays, weddings, births and even mourn losses together. I am thankful that my adoptive and birth families have successfully blended for some of these events.

For nearly every ounce of gratitude I have, I also understand that someone else had to sacrifice dearly, and I wish they could have been spared heartache, guilt and regret. That’s why being adopted doesn’t make me special.

It just makes me me.

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  • Michele Leavitt  On November 30, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks for sharing this truly thoughtful analysis! Gratitude is healthy and life-affirming, but not when it’s someone else’s expectation of how we should feel.

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